(WASHINGTON) — Two weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion nationwide despite efforts by some states to outlaw or severely restrict it.
Speaking from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday, alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Biden decried the court’s decision as “extreme” and “totally wrong.”
“This isn’t some imagined horror,” Biden said. “It is already happening. Just last week, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl was a rape victim — 10 years old — and she was forced to have to travel out of state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life.”
“Imagine being that little girl,” he continued. “I’m serious, just imagine being that little girl.”
The executive action comes as Biden faces pressure from his fellow Democrats to take more forceful action, especially since the decision handed down by the high court on June 24 was leaked in early May.
His executive order largely finalizes what has already been announced by the administration — including instructions to the Justice Department to make sure women can travel out-of-state for abortion care.
The order addresses the elevated risks for patients, providers and clinics, which includes efforts to protect mobile clinics that have been deployed to state borders to offer care for out-of-state patients.
Biden’s action, the White House said, directs Attorney General Merrick Garland and the White House counsel to convene volunteer lawyers and organizations to “encourage robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country.”
Biden has also said he’ll provide leave for federal workers traveling for medical care, which could set an example for private companies to do the same.
Amazon, Starbucks and other corporations have already announced expanded health benefits to pay for their employees’ travel fees if they are seeking an abortion and the procedure is unavailable near where they live.
Biden is also ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to take “additional action to protect and expand” access to medication abortion, emergency contraception and IUDs.
The agency is instructed to increase outreach and public education efforts regarding access to reproductive health care services — abortion included — to get reliable information to the public.
Patient privacy is another part of Biden’s order, which takes additional measures to address the transfer and sale of sensitive health-related data, combat digital surveillance related to reproductive health care services and protects people from fraudulent and deceptive practices.
Last week, Democratic governors urged Biden to use federal facilities and land for abortion services.
“What am I talking about? Veterans hospitals, military bases and other places where the federal government controls the jurisdiction in some of the states that are hostile to women’s rights, and make sure that those services can be available to other women,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul suggested.
The White House didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the idea, stating it could have “dangerous ramifications.” The suggestion will not be included in Biden’s executive order.
Also not included in Biden’s action are several proposals by advocates, including Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recommendation this week that the administration make clear Americans can legally transport the abortion pill across the U.S.-Canadian border.
Biden says it’s ultimately up to Congress to codify Roe into law, calling it “the fastest way to restore” rights. But any effort by Democrats to do so would likely fail in the Senate, where they would need 10 Republican votes.
Biden suggested a filibuster carveout to enshrine abortion rights in federal law, but two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — are opposed to changing the longstanding Senate rule.
The president called on women to turn out in record numbers this November to elect more pro-choice Democrats.
“You, the women of America, you determine the outcome of this issue,” Biden said.
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